I started thinking about this last week. Everyone loves the idea of a good, cheap neighborhood Italian restaurant, and we all like to believe we have one in our midst. But most often the neighborhood Italian restaurant we claim as our own really doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Either the ingredients used are sub-standard or the cooking is sloppy or the service is lousy. And just because the owner smiles at you and tries to make you feel at home doesn't make it a good restaurant.
But I do have one on the Upper West Side: Celeste. At Celeste the frying is deftly done, more than creditable Neapolitan pizzas come out of the woodburning oven, pastas are properly al dente and lightly sauced, and salads are made with good ingredients, especially given the modest prices. And they have one of the best Italian cheese courses in the city, thanks to the obsessive cheesemongering of Carmine, one of the owners.
<!---->Celeste's executive chef and co-owner Giancarlo Quaddalti also owns another good cheap Italian restaurant, Bianca, in the East Village. There he makes gnocco fritto, impossibly light pieces of fried dough he serves with prosciutto or stracchino cheese, his excellent lasagna, and an assortment of pastas and main courses that more often than not show a high degree of precision and skill.
My third good, cheap Italian restaurant is Franny's in Brooklyn. Husband and wife chef-restaurateur team Andrew Feinberg and Franny Stephens have justifiably become known for the terrific pizzas Feinberg and company turn out from the wood-burning oven, but Feinberg's crostini and salads show a skilled hand and a reverence for quality ingredients you don't often find in restaurants this moderately priced.
What about you? Do you have a good, cheap Italian restaurant in your neighborhood or town or city?
Address: 502 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10024 (map)
Address: 5 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012 (map)